Reconciling Eternal Coincidences

I recently read over my patriarchal blessing and found myself asking some rhetorical questions. I don’t have issues with the blessing itself. In fact, it’s quite lovely (to me). It reads more like a story than like a blessing and offers a condensed version of Mormonism with me as the central figure. But the strong focus on our earthly experience within the context of eternity often causes me to reflect on some very powerful coincidences.

1) There is no beginning and there is no end to eternity but coincidently my decisions now are of extreme importance in determining whether or not my progression will be limited/halted after this life or continue eternally (i.e., eternal progression can become quite limited after this life and because of this life, even if right now and presumably before now, it has not been limited/halted)

2) My wife and I have been sealed for time and all eternity, though at least some of eternity has already happened during which part we were not sealed (somewhat negating the “all” part of the Mormon-friendly phrase “time and all eternity”). Coincidently, this is an extremely important process — binding for eternity — that again takes place here on this earth and which is a requirement for eternal life / progression later even if never a requirement for said progression till now.

3) There are worlds without number, but Christ was coincidently crucified in our world for all God’s children (presumably even for those who live elsewhere and also just as presumably because our world was the most wicked?)

All these eternal coincidences cause me to ask my rhetorical questions: What has happened in other worlds that is of any significance (especially when compared to the atonement, life, and death of Jesus Christ that happened here)? Why is this speck of eternity coincidently the most important in practically every aspect? Does eternity really revolve around me and my current life this much?

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    These are some great questions. I think that #2 is easily answered by pointing out that “time and all eternity” really means “time and all eternity on a going-forward basis.”

    Bob says:
    “There is no beginning and there is no end to eternity but coincidently my decisions now are of extreme importance in determining whether or not my progression will be limited/halted after this life or continue eternally (i.e., eternal progression can become quite limited after this life”

    Some would argue that progression after this life isn’t really so limited. Think of arguments over whether there will be progression between kingdoms, etc. But the fact that people argue about this stuff just highlights the tension at the core of your point: Investing earth-life with a lot of meaning is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we want to see it as crucial and view how we comport ourselves here (or what we believe in this life) as having eternal consequences. On the other hand, we want to soften the harsh implications of such a doctrine, so we give ourselves various backdoors to mitigate or escape from the potentially harsh consequences. (Think of parents who take comfort in hearing that if they do X, Y and Z, little Bobby will still be able to make it the Celestial Kingdom with his folks, notwithstanding his drunken orgies in the here and now).

    “There are worlds without number, but Christ was coincidently crucified in our world for all God’s children (presumably even for those who live elsewhere and also just as presumably because our world was the most wicked?)”

    I always thought this was an odd doctrine. It feels inconsistent with theologies that have arisen out of the King Follet Discourse (I mean the notion that there are lots of “Gods”, and so there’s nothing uniquely significant about our own world in the GRAND scheme of things). What are the chances that of all the worlds that Christ could have been crucified on, it happened here?

    I’ve always had trouble picturing what it must be like to live on one of those “other worlds.” (Do Sunday School children on Planet Zoltar learn about Christ the Son of God, who died for their sins, on a planet in a galaxy far, far away? Do the aliens resent the fact that the only “real” drama of any eternal significance took place on our world, and not on their relatively insignificant globe? Do they have maps of Planet Earth’s Ancient Near East in the backs of their scriptures?) :)

    Aaron B

  2. Interesting questions. You said:

    What has happened in other worlds that is of any significance (especially when compared to the atonement, life, and death of Jesus Christ that happened here)?

    While this is popular in some circles, I don’t believe it rises above folk-belief. While there are people that want to expand the atonement beyond the earth, I think it is sufficiently expounded in the latter discourses of the Prophet that this is not necessarily the case.

    There are voices among us who propose alternatives to the standard view of eternal progression (cough)MMPs(cough), but I think they are simply appostates :)

    Simply stated, I think that we will always be in the crucible of eternity. I can imagine a being stating similar questions about the council in heaven. Why not at other times as well?

  3. …looks like Aaron beat me to the other worldly punch.

  4. alternatives to the standard view of eternal progression (cough)MMPs(cough)

    LOL! Thanks, J. That’s funny.

    Seriously, MMPs (not to entirely threadjack) need some explanation. I’ve been there myself, and still stick with it, but knowing full well of its limitations. The core limitation, for me, is what is called “the paradox of unavoidable repetition.” It’s one of the arguments against reincarnation religions of the far east. The core assumption for this paradox to exist, of course, is that MMPs have been happening for the entire duration of eternity — as far back as it is forward. If MMPs haven’t been going on for eternity, and there’s a “starting line,” so to speak, then there’s no need to worry about the paradox. However, if MMPs are an eternal concept, then eternity might allow for the paradox because the “length” of eternity is enough time for all mathematical possibilities and variables to work themselves out in every variance and nuance possible in the universe (and then some!). I have never had an adherent of MMPs (myself included!) resolve the paradox adequately for my mind to take a final rest in the doctrine. So I have it mentally shelved as a possibility that I am willing to accept if true, but have no compunction about chucking it pending further rationale.

    Okay lawyers, you’re up! Fascinate me with your wonderful expositions of this seeming paradox. Theologians and Bible guys, you’re off the hook. And don’t go running off on tangents, nitpicking at other stuff for the sake of argument, just stick to the paradox.

  5. Aaron B makes me laugh out loud (is it acceptable any more to spell that out?) while J. Stapley makes me ask more questions:

    “I don’t believe it rises above folk-belief. While there are people that want to expand the atonement beyond the earth, I think it is sufficiently expounded in the latter discourses of the prophet that this is not necessarily the case.”

    Aaron B. points out that the plurality of Gods makes it such that our world can’t be THAT special. But then scripture tells us that our God does happen to have other worlds. Perhaps this is best left to folk-belief, but it’s not that far of a stretch to understand how members wonder how God’s other worlds deal with the atonement, especially considering phrases like “only begotten,” presumably meaning what it means literally, making it such that Aaron B.’s planet Zoltar example is easily construed. Not to mention that our religion already embraces this idea with the Book of Mormon. Christ showing up to a people on another continent saying he was crucified somewhere else… Why not another planet? I don’t have the answer, but as it stands, it is somewhat of a black hole in our doctrine that is very susceptible to speculation when nothing else exists to fill it.

    “I can imagine a being stating similar question about the council in heaven. Why not at other times as well?”

    Yes, of course you can imagine this, but only because that is a [sort of] recorded incident from the past. My question is geared more toward how anything in the future can be nearly as significant if the reason behind our time here and now being the “crucible of eternity” is the very idea that we might limit our future by our choices.

  6. I have thought about planet Zoltar many, many times, and have wondered about the coincidence of having Jesus conveniently placed on our very own planet too. But, I finally calmed myself with the rationalization that “the atonement had to happen somewhere. Why not here?” Maybe we’re just the “lucky” ones.

  7. Hehe.

    I love it when my favorite speculative subjects come up…

    You may be interested to know that I spent a healthy portion of 2005 posting on these very subjects. Here are all 20 posts I put up on the subject of eternal progression and here are the 14 posts in that set that touch on the idea of MMPs (multiple mortal probations).

    The short version of it all is that the only way I can answer the questions you have asked, reconcile the revelations, and make sense of the universe is via the model that Heber C.Kimball, Eliza Snow, and loads of other 19th century GA’s believed and taught — namely MMPs. (J ribs me for thinking Heber C. and friends are right but of course he is the my only friend in the ‘nacle who manages to actually get more things wrong in his doctrinal ideas over time… ;-) ) This for me entails a likely “divine succession of saviors”, or a savior for each inhabited planet (yes I know that is speculation). It allows me to reconcile the idea that our God was once a man like us elsewhere, but that he was also once a savior like Jesus elsewhere as is strongly hinted at by Joseph in the KFD and other sermons.

    David J – I currently reconcile the potential paradox you mention by leaning toward an as of yet unsettled variation on Orson Pratt’s spiritual atomism. If our spirits in current form have a beginning (but the intelligence parts don’t) then there is no unavoidable repetition paradox. (Plus this helps me make sense of the garden narrative as the moment our spirits became sentient…) I actually think that this paradox you mention exists for those that believe spirits as spirits are begginingless with or without MMPs. If your spirit has been in current form forever then there is no chance that you’ll progress farther, theoretically. It has already been eternity after all — it’s not like “infinity +1″ will make a difference in that scenario.

    BTW — Nobody get freaked out please… I have this hobby of conceiving of wildly speculative answers to life the universe and everything…

  8. Geoff, we are freaked out.

    Bob: if the reason behind our time here and now being the “crucible of eternity” is the very idea that we might limit our future by our choices.

    I guess I believe that this is always the case. John Taylor once spoke on eternal progression in a fassion that incorporated some of the teachings of Joseph:

    This is one of our first estates, or it is our second estate, if you please, and so we move on from state to state, with a knowledge of the true principles of the eternal world revealed to us, which principles are eternal—eternal truth, eternal life, eternal intelligence, leading us on to the possession of celestial kingdoms of God. From intelligence to intelligence, from glory to glory, from power to power we proceed onward, until we possess thrones, and powers, and dominions in the eternal worlds.

    Now, as it relates to the specialness of this world, many seem to be using a theological form of the anthropic principle. We can look in the Pearl of Great Price and see where it desrbes many worlds and many Adams. Though I completely disagree with Geoff’s reading of Joseph Smith, I do believe that there is significant evidence in his teachings for many Saviors (all in other spheres of course).

  9. enochville says:

    “And the mercy of the Atonement extends not only to an infinite number of people, but also to an infinite number of worlds created by Him” (Russell M. Nelson, “The Atonement,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 33).

    “The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him” (D&C 93:9–10).

    It appears clear from these and other quotes that Christ helped create other worlds for our Heavenly Father and his infinite atonement saved the inhabitants of those other worlds.

    As far as the coincidences go, I like the answers that have already been given. The atonement had to happen somewhere and the inhabitants of that planet were bound to think the same thing, namely, “why here?” And as far as those aliens feeling slighted. Everyone on this earth who lived before the time of Christ’s coming and knew about the atonement wanted it to be in their day or on their continent. It seems that it is not uncommon to feel slighted that it did not happen where they live. Now, you could really talk about coincidences if Christ were your half-brother.

    There have been many pivotal moments in your progression besides this mortal life and there will continue to be. You already passed one test by keeping your first estate in the pre-mortal existence.

    In my lucid thinking, I believe that our marriage sealings in some way become part of us and thus extend to all eternity both before and behind us, but I am not so caught up in the linear progression of time.

  10. enochville says:

    I guess I should add that although I believe Christ was the Savior of all our Heavenly Father’s worlds. I do believe that there are other worlds that are not part of Heavenly Father’s kingdom who have their own saviors.

  11. So no one feels that all these coincidences could possibly be a sign of a somewhat narcissistic society? I’m not saying this is the way it is, I’m just saying that the more I dwell on it, the more I think it’s a possibility.

  12. Geoff,

    Dude, you rock, man. A lone fish in a sea of speculation. I like it.

    Seriously, even with spiritual atomism, eternity still throws a wrench into the mix. If spirits are created or made (I can’t believe I just wrote that), and they’re made out of spirit “stuff” which is broken down and built up repeatedly into spirits throughout eternity, eternity still creates the paradox because the building up/breaking down of the spirit has been going on for eternity. I don’t think the problem is with one’s view of the nature of a spirit (or lack thereof), but rather with eternity. It leaves the door open to the paradox, no matter which version of “spirit birth” one assumes. Hence my frustration with MMPs (despite being a tacit believer) and hence the question. Lawyers know best.

    And that reminds me: if the “stuff” from which a spirit is made is truly endless and infinite, it’s fundamentally the same thing as creatio ex nihilo. Mechanically it might be different, but in essence it appears the same (ie, both models contain an endless source from which to create things).

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm…….. Back to football blogs…..

  13. 1 Cor. 8: 5 – 6
    5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

    6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

    I have always assumed that each Father had a Son that would be the saviour of all of his children. This means that since the Savior helped create all of these worlds for his brothers and sisters, then I figured he would be their savior as well.

    I too have wondered what those people on those other planets learn in Sunday school. They would have thier own prophets and Christ would have visited them as well.

    But this could all be wrong of course.

  14. Bob, I think my explication of the present (even after this life) as being the crucible of eternity is essentially agreeing with your speculation of narcissism.

  15. I agree too Bob. I think most traditional models are wrong, but that they are fueled into prominence by an odd insistence that we on this planet are the center of time, the universe, and everything.

  16. My wife and I have been sealed for time and all eternity, though at least some of eternity has already happened during which part we were not sealed (somewhat negating the “all” part of the Mormon-friendly phrase “time and all eternity”).

    If it puts your mind to rest, remember that any number divided by infinity equals zero. And inifinite minus any number is still infinite. Therefore you might not have enjoyed all eternity in the covenant but the remainder of the time is still infinite. :)

  17. (nitpicky pet peeve)

    any number divided by infinity equals zero. And inifinite minus any number is still infinite.

    infinity is a *concept,* not a number. You can say “the limit as x approaches infinity of [any number] divided by [x] is zero.” And you can say “any number subracted from an effectively infinite number results in an effectively infinite number.” For example Avagadro’s Number minus 2 is still Avagadro’s Number. And 2 divided by Avogadro’s number is effectively zero.
    (/nit picky pet peeve)

    Which begs the question, is it *really* infinity or is it just effectively infinite in our mortal understanding?

  18. harpingheather says:

    What are the chances that of all the worlds that Christ could have been crucified on, it happened here?

    What to chances have to do with it? It’s God’s plan. There is a reason it happened here. I don’t think we know that reason but it seems to me that the Plan of Salvation is a carefully thought piece of work and I doubt that God threw a dart at pictures of the various planets to choose which one Christ would recieve His mortal body on.

  19. harpingheather,

    For me, at least (and probably for Geoff J), it’s not just that Christ was crucified here; it’s that “we on this planet are the center of time, the universe, and everything.”

    For the Plan of Salvation being a “carefully thought piece of work,” it seems to favor our world and time more than other worlds or times in eternity.

    I don’t think the problem necessarily lies in how God planned it, but rather has more to do with the way we view it through our self-centered glasses.

  20. Awesome, I’m really glad that the atonement happened to happen here. Except…wait..what if it didn’t happen here…….

    I guess that means, that NO ONE CAN KNOW…

    seriously, how can anyone really think that they have any idea as to whether or not we know if we are ‘alone in the universe’ or if there are many other intelligent beings out there.

    In conclusion, there is absolutley no way to know what we’re talking about, in spite of whatever speculation we would offer….

  21. spelling correction: absolutely

  22. “And the mercy of the Atonement extends not only to an infinite number of people, but also to an infinite number of worlds created by Him” (Russell M. Nelson, “The Atonement,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 33).”

    Then you’d think the GAs would do their best to keep quiet on the subject…

  23. Thanks for pointing that out, Andermon. I owe you tuition. :)

    I enjoyed your paradox of repitition, David. I am not sure if reincarnation theologies preclude repitition. After all, if you fail to realize your essence, wouldn’t it make sense to repeat the experience?

    Anyways, I would love to hear from David or somebody else who is familiar with the details of reincarnation theologies.

  24. What are the chances that of all the worlds that Christ could have been crucified on, it happened here?

    Hey, what if it didn’t just happen here. What if it happened simultaneously on all worlds at once as part of some space-time overlap? What if all the peoples of all the worlds are simultaneously asking “why are we so narcissistic? why are we so narcissistic?”
    Okay, I’m being just a little silly, but Geoff’s line that “there is this odd insistence that we on this planet are the center of time, the universe, and everything” left me thinking about the all the inhabitants of worlds without end sitting around bloging and talking and now I’m feeling supremely insignificant! I mean even moreso than usual!

  25. After all, if you fail to realize your essence, wouldn’t it make sense to repeat the experience?

    Right, but if you have to repeat it over and over and over again, whether the soul “moves up” or “falls back” in its “progression,” or even repeats each life exactly the same as before, eternity still opens the door for the probability that it would repeat itself (inevitably). Eternity allows for every nuance of a given “lifetime” to occur, as well as all infinite possible variations thereon. So, for example, if the human soul, whether it is created out of “stuff” (Mormon “intelligence” — why was there “stupidence” in the pre-existence?) or it is eternally uncreated or made, if it has to live mortal probations over and over for all eternity, then eternity opens the door up for that soul to experience all possible variations of any given mortal probation — eternity is long enough to allow for that (and then some). Even if the soul is stripped down to its “intelligence” (as most Mormons call it), and then re-formed into a new “spirit body” (weird!), eternity still allows for the paradox. So if MMPs is a true doctrine, and it has been going on for all eternity, you and I not only have lived this life before, but we’ve lived each and every nuance or variable which could detract from the current model. Not only that, but eternity also allows for each and every nuance and variable to be lived an infinite number of times! Is your head spinning yet? This is the paradox of unavoidable repetition, and it’s not the doctrine of MMPs’ fault (or reincarnation or whatever), it’s eternity’s fault. So it would seem like “eternal progression” is more like “eternal merry-go-round” because of the paradox.

    So, for the intellectual folks I know who espouse MMPs (I’m undecided), they go around the paradox by stating a couple of things:

    1. They say that there was a “starting line” way back when, and that we haven’t been doing mortal probations for all eternity. IOW, MMPs haven’t been going on for eternity. It’s problematic, but it is a (temporary) cure.

    2. That MMPs allow for infinite possibilities to “match” the number of (infinite) possibilities that eternity allows. Make sense? Infinite time (or, eternity) + infinite possibilities = no paradox. This is where I stand on the issue, but it doesn’t quite fit well with eternal progression. It’s more like eternal lateral movement, with occasional upward and downward peaks and valleys. Maybe a continual climb (or descent)? Who knows. But eternity throws a wrench in this one too because again, your timeline goes both directions forever.

    3. There is no eternity. It has a starting line and a finish line. This is problematic because Joseph Smith indicated in the KFD (using his ring as a model) that eternity has no beginning (he emphasized this in Abr. 3:18) and has no end. But it is a temporary cure.

    The problem is eternity, which seems to allow for the paradox no matter what model of creation or termination or reincarnation one chooses.

  26. David J: The problem is eternity, which seems to allow for the paradox no matter what model of creation or termination or reincarnation one chooses.

    Yup. That’s it. MMP has nothing to do with this problem. The problem is eternity. Too much to comprehend for me…

    Meems: I’m feeling supremely insignificant! I mean even moreso than usual!

    Well if it makes you feel better, even though I agree with Bob that thinking that events on this particular planet are at the center of all life, the universe and everything is narcissistic; I do think that people are the most important thing in the universe. I firmly believe what modern prophets have taught: that we are gods in embryo and that we can become just like God. So even if this particular planet is not the center of everything, we are the center of God’s attention.

  27. Well said, Geoff, I can’t help but keep agreeing with you.

  28. I do think that people are the most important thing in the universe

    Spoken like a true liberal. I love it.

  29. Jared E. says:

    This thread is so rediculous. The truth of the whole matter is that nothing is as it seems. I bet when we die, we’ll look around at the way things actually are and think ‘wow, I was way off’. I always get a kick out of people who quote past general authorities with such conviction: “Such and such said blah blah blah and so the meaning of life, the universe and everything is yada yada yada”, when in reality we all know that the answer to life, the universe and everything is ’42’.

  30. “The truth of the whole matter is that nothing is as it seems. I bet when we die, we’ll look around at the way things actually are and think ‘wow, I was way off’.”

    Right. There’s a good chance of that.

  31. Actually, I tend to see the ‘the Saviour died on this world’ doctrine as an indictment of our world. Nephi taught that the Jews of that time were the only nation capable of crucifying their God. Does any of that sentiment extend to the rest of the planet?

    AFAIK, that particular doctrine is referenced from Joseph Smith’s poetic rewrite of section 76. Any advances?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ironically, perhaps my main issue with this book is that it is very critical of The Da Vinci Code while making extremely audacious statements in its own right, such as: “And the thing that matters most—the most important event in time or all eternity—is the Atonement, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (p. 40). I say “ironically” because at first I thought “the LDS perspective” would be refreshing (which it is in some sections, such as within the context of a married Jesus). But, as many of you may know, I’m not a fan of the superlative, especially when we’re talking about eternity. Not to say that I don’t think the atonement is important, but most important in all eternity? How could we make such a statement, let alone in a book criticizing another book’s credibility? I won’t detract further, but for those interested, please refer to my issues with eternal coincidences. [...]

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